Don't opt out: click here to learn more about our work.

The Blues women’s hockey road to the national championships

Veterans Kassie Roache and Meagan O’Brien reflect on their careers and more

The Blues women’s hockey road to the national championships

Though the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team settled for silver against the Guelph Gryphons in the McCaw Cup Final on March 9, that game wasn’t the end of their journey. The team had their eyes set on an even bigger prize: the 2019 U SPORTS national championship. It’s been 18 years since the Blues won the national championship. This year, the underdog Blues had looked to make some noise against the top-seeded Alberta Pandas while fifth-year forwards Kassie Roache and Meagan O’Brien had hoped to end their varsity careers with a national championship. Unfortunately, they fell short.

Roache and O’Brien credit their extensive athletic backgrounds as the key to their success. Roache started playing hockey at the age of four. “I started skating when I was about two, my parents made a rink in the backyard. And then I started officially playing hockey at age four,” Roache says. O’Brien peaked a little later in her career. “I was put in the Timbits hockey school program when I was seven years old. So that was the first time I ever geared up in my equipment,” O’Brien notes.

Coming from a big city, O’Brien’s earlier life in Brampton was substantially focused on academics and sports. “Throughout my high school career, I played basketball, volleyball, and flag football,” O’Brien says. “I was always trying to be keen on my academics, but I was never one to stay inside and read books.” Her family was also involved with sports. “On my mom’s side I think all the boys in the family played hockey, and then my uncle also played soccer, I think that’s where I got the love of being a goalie.”

Roache comes from a much smaller town. “I’m from Corunna, Ontario, which is a small town near Sarnia,” she says. Her distinctively small hometown gave her a reason to focus on playing sports when she was younger: “There’s maybe 5,000 people when I was growing up.” Growing up, baseball, lacrosse, and hockey were her favorite sports to pass the time. Roache isn’t the only athlete in her family, as her three sisters play hockey and lacrosse as well. “My middle sister Carly, she’s still playing lacrosse right now. They just won their provincial title last summer, so that’s pretty cool.”

O’Brien and Roache both are avid Maple Leafs fans and they grew up idolizing several Leafs players. “If you look at my closet, you can see about five different sizes of a Matt Sundin jersey because I just kept outgrowing it. So that was definitely my favourite player growing up,” O’Brien explains. “I really liked Curtis Joseph and Tie Domi,” Roache adds.

The pressure of playing for one of the top schools in Canada can add some serious weight to one’s shoulders, especially as a rookie. Roache notes that her experience in her first year was quite different from what she was used to.

“When I came in, I think I was one of two people that didn’t play junior, which is the highest level. So not playing at a pace that the other girls were used to, I felt like I was a step behind,” she says. O’Brien agrees with the difference in the overall atmosphere as well. “Especially coming from a team where you were just a senior and you know, probably the leading goal scorer. You come in and you’re like a little fish in a big pond all over again,” she says.

Although playing for a university was certainly different, O’Brien tried to make the best of it. “As a rookie on the team there was obviously pressure to try to keep a spot on the lineup, but we just always tried to constantly remind ourselves to enjoy every moment, even if it wasn’t exactly what we wanted, or if we weren’t getting the ice time we now get,” she explains.

Now both players are in their final year, and have gotten used to the intense schedule of a student athlete.

“It varies heavily, day to day. Some days I’m up at 6:00 am and we’ll go until 9:00 at night. Other days I won’t have anything until 10:00 am or noon, and then I’ll be going till 10:00 pm,” Roache says. She notes that her daily schedule can be hectic and spontaneous. “It’s very hard to be able to wake up at different times everyday.”

This schedule can be very time-consuming, especially for a full-time university student. “You’re always looking at a practice for sure, but some days we have up to three practices,” O’Brien adds. “Daily, we always have at least one practice, and sometimes a workout. And then weekends are games, always.”

Although daily routines can be stressful and busy, they try to make the best of it. “I’d say friends and family help a lot,” Roache says. “To just have people in your life that are there to support your goals and just to help out in any way possible, like send meals up, or bring groceries when they come… I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own, I don’t think.”

O’Brien stresses the importance of friends and family too. “I have the privilege of living not too far away from all of my family in Brampton, so on our days off I’ll try to go have dinner with my parents or my grandparents, or my baby sister… you know, just remind yourself that hockey and school aren’t everything,” she explains.

O’Brien acknowledges that student athletes aren’t necessarily ‘celebrities’ on campus. “You can tell that there’s part of the student population who have no idea about the sports that exist here,” she says. At times, however, O’Brien does have some experiences with fans. “I was at Mount Sinai, my teammate broke her wrist. Someone saw our hockey backpack and came up to us, shook our hands and congratulated us on our success.”

Both take the time to be regular students though. “If I need a break from studying, I’ll just pick up a guitar and start playing,” O’Brien says. Roache, like a lot of students, enjoys watching Netflix in her spare time.

The two players recognize the importance of having a family-like bond with their teammates. “I feel like without the support from teammates, sometimes you wouldn’t make it through your days,” Roache says.

“We’ve always got each other’s backs. And don’t get me wrong, you go through trials and tribulations together… But you celebrate your successes with them,” O’Brien adds.

Despite their closeness, their playing styles on the ice contrast each other. When asked to describe herself, Roache says, “As a player, I would say annoying. Gritty. I’m very aggressive.” O’Brien, on the other hand, plays a more cautious game. “I try to avoid getting penalties, and I’d say I’m like a grinder.”

Despite their varsity careers coming to an end, their love for the game will never change. “I think it just brings a lot of people together and you kind of have a common goal,” O’Brien says. “You have your fans and family that come out to watch you,” she adds. Roache acknowledges what hockey has done for her. “It helps you grow, [develop] leadership skills.”

Both players will be walking away from the game to see where the future takes them. “I’m currently waiting on results of certain applications, but as for my next plans I don’t really know exactly where I’ll end up. But I know I want to end up in medical school and hopefully become a doctor one day,” O’Brien says.

Roache is in a similar situation. “My plans are pretty undecided right now, but I think that one thing that I will always have as a goal for myself will be to just bring what I’ve learned and what I’ve developed over the last five years into my workplace… whether that be a workplace or another hockey team.”

At the end of the day, being able to put on that jersey and represent U of T carries a deeper meaning for varsity players. “It’s an honour and a privilege, and I think I’m just going to miss that student-athlete life and you know, being surrounded by the best teammates ever,” O’Brien says.

Blues women’s hockey take silver in McCaw Cup Final

Guelph Gryphons earn 4–2 victory to win OUA Championship

Blues women’s hockey take silver in McCaw Cup Final

In their first McCaw Cup Final in a decade, the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team fell short of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) title in a 4–2 loss against the Guelph Gryphons. Guelph hosted the final, after posting an OUA-best 16–4–2 record in the regular season.

Kassie Roache opened scoring for the Blues, receiving a well-timed pass from Kiyono Cox and wiring a slap shot into the top corner to give the Blues a 1–0 lead. The Gryphons didn’t answer back until there were five minutes left in the opening period; Mallory Young tipped a pass to Claire Merrick, who shot past Blues netminder Erica Fryer to level the score at 1–1.

Fryer was busy early and often in the first period as the Gryphons forced her to make seven saves. The rookie was well poised between the pipes, making 14 saves by the end of the second period and allowing just one goal from the highest-scoring offense in the OUA.

But the Gryphons outmatched the Blues in the third period, scoring three unanswered goals to pull away in a contest that had been otherwise level from the opening face-off.

Katie Mikkelsen’s power-play goal 31 seconds in saw Toronto’s one-goal lead evaporate. Kristen Jay put the Gryphons ahead 3–2, with Merrick scoring a late goal to end any hopes of a Blues comeback.

After a strong 60 minutes, the Gryphons lifted the McCaw Cup for the third time in the past four years.

Despite the loss, the Blues season continues next week as they head to Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island for the chance to capture a national title at the USPORTS National Championships.

Blues women’s hockey team earns spot in McCaw Cup Final

Julie Szulewska scores late game-winning goal

Blues women’s hockey team earns spot in McCaw Cup Final

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team is headed to the McCaw Cup Final after defeating the Western Mustangs 2–1 on Saturday at Thompson Arena. The victory came less than 24 hours after the Western Mustangs forced a winner-takes-all match with a win at Varsity Arena in the best-of-three OUA semifinals. This is the Blues’ first trip to the OUA women’s hockey finals in a decade.    

Blues fourth-year forward Jessica Robichaud scored the opening goal of the contest midway through the second period. Fourth-year forward Stephanie Ayres’ pass deflected off a Mustangs defenseman and Robichaud corralled the loose puck, launching a quick shot to beat Mustangs goaltender Carmen Lasis.

The Blues found themselves in multiple shorthanded situations throughout the second period due to their undisciplined play. Toronto committed three penalties in the period and a total of five in the game, while Western only registered two. Mustangs third-year forward Sydnee Baker capitalized on Megan O’Brien’s body checking penalty late in the second period with a powerplay goal to even the score at 1–1, with less than four minutes remaining in the period.

Blues fifth-year defenceman Julia Szulewska tallied the game-winning goal for the Blues with six minutes left in the third period. Louie Bieman played a sharp-angled pass across the crease, and Szluewska fired the puck five-hole and past Lasis.

Western scrambled to level the score in the final minutes of the game. Mustangs head coach Candice Moxley pulled Lasis, with 90 seconds remaining for the extra attacker. While the Mustangs’ overwhelming puck presence forced Blues first-year goalie Erica Fryer to make a few sprawling saves in the final moments, Western was unable to find the back of the net.

Fryer continued her strong play this season, recording 22 saves.

With their victory over the Mustangs, the Blues will face the Guelph Gryphons on March 9 in the McCaw Cup Final and have earned a bid to the U SPORTS Championship.

Varsity Blues women’s hockey in home playoff action

Blues earn crucial Game 1 playoff victory over Nipissing Lakers

Varsity Blues women’s hockey in home playoff action

 

Blues second-year forward Louie Bieman attempts to corral the rebound away from Lakers second-year goaltender Danika Ranger (Click to Expand).

 

Blues fifth-year forward Lauren Straatman and Lakers second-year forward Sam Strassburger stay focused in anticipation for the face-off (Click to Expand).

 

Blues fifth-year forward Meagan O’Brien attempts to get back into the play (Click to Expand).

 

Blues first-year defenceman Jana Headrick looks back at captain Becki Bowering (Click to Expand).

 

First-year goaltender Erica Fryer watches at the puck sails past her crease. (Click to Expand). DANIEL SAMUEL/THE VARSITY

 

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team opened the OUA playoffs with a convincing 3–1 victory over the Nipissing Lakers on February 20 (Click to Expand).

 

 

Varsity Blues win big on first-ever Pride Night

Blues women’s hockey team defeats the UOIT Ridgebacks 4–1

Varsity Blues win big on first-ever Pride Night

A Pride fag sticker is illuminated on the back of second-year forward Louie Bieman’s helmet. THEO ARBEZ/THE VARSITY

 

Fifth-year defenceman Julia Szulewska stands ready during a break from action. THEO ARBEZ/THE VARSITY

 

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team huddles around starting goaltender Erica Fryer. THEO ARBEZ/THE VARSITY

 

Blues captain Becki Bowering battles for possession of the puck. THEO ARBEZ/THE VARSITY

Varsity Blues women’s hockey drop contest 3–1 against Waterloo Warriors

Louie Bieman scored Toronto’s lone goal of the game

Varsity Blues women’s hockey drop contest 3–1 against Waterloo Warriors

The Toronto Varsity Blues women’s hockey team suffered a 31 loss against the Waterloo Warriors on Saturday afternoon.

Waterloo put a goal on the scoreboard to open up the game with a tip shot by fourth-year forward Alison Hanson, giving the Warriors a 10 lead to end the period. Despite the Warriors’ early lead, the Blues managed to generate eight shots on goal to the Warriors’ five.

The Warriors’ lead quickly disappeared as Blues forward Louie Bieman tied the game with less than 10 minutes remaining in the second period. Waterloo’s offense appeared to be more aggressive, generating more shots than Toronto’s. With less than five minutes in the period, the Warriors jumped to another lead as forward Angela MacDonald scored, giving them a 21 advantage. Toronto could not find any momentum as the Warriors’ late push carried them into the final period.

Toronto found themselves on the penalty kill twice early on in the third period, reducing their chances of tying the game even more. First-year forward Taylor Trussler committed both of the penalties by bodychecking and boarding. The Blues could not get past Warriors goaltender Amanda Smith in the final period. Samantha Burbridge sealed the game for Waterloo with an empty netter in the final minute, giving the Warriors a 31 victory.

Toronto’s first-year goalie Erica Fryer made 14 saves in the loss. Smith stopped 18 of 19 shots.

“It was back and forth. We had some good spurts. It wasn’t very consistent though. We really only played with a sense of urgency when we were down, like the middle of the second period and the last 10 minutes of the third,” said Blues forward Louie Bieman, when asked about the team’s performance. “So, it’s hard to win when you’re not playing a full 60 minutes unfortunately.”

Bieman scored the team’s only goal. “Megan made a pass out front. And the goalie had been dropping all game. So I just dragged it around her, had a wide open net.”

When asked about the team’s preparation for future games, Bieman said, “Don’t worry too much about this game. We have another one tomorrow afternoon. Have a quick turnaround, think about it a bit tonight. But, rest up, get ready to play tomorrow.”

Blues women earn comeback victory over Windsor

Five different players scored for Toronto

Blues women earn comeback victory over Windsor

Supporters turned out to watch the Blues women’s hockey team kick off their regular season in fantastic fashion on Saturday night, as the squad posted a 5–3 comeback victory over the Windsor Lancers. It was a true team effort for the Blues, as five different players scored and 10 recorded points on the evening.

Toronto dug themselves into a hole early, as Windsor fired off two quick goals in the first four minutes. The Blues caught a tough break later on in the period, as Taylor Trussler and Louie Bieman were sent to the box for minor penalties about a minute apart. Amy Maitre was quick to take advantage of Windsor’s five on three advantage, converting on powerplay to put the Lancers up 3–0 with five minutes remaining in the first.

Maitre’s goal proved to be the last for the Lancers, however, and Toronto remained poised, relying on its veteran leadership and the strength of its forecheck to counter Windsor’s chippy, physical play. Stephanie Ayre’s goal from Trussler and Mathilde de Serres with about 30 seconds left in the frame was “really big” for the Blues, said Bieman, proving to energize both players and fans alike as the Blues headed into the first intermission down 3–1.

The latter two periods were all Blues, as Toronto scored four unanswered goals between the two periods to put the game away. The home side upped its intensity on their forecheck and absolutely dominated the second period, with the visiting Lancers struggling to even advance the puck past the centre line out of their own zone. Lauren Straatman scored a powerplay goal on the back of some great puck movement from Cristine Chao and Louie Bieman to cut the lead to just one point with 12 and a half minutes to go in the second, while Kassie Roache tipped in a beauty feed from Jana Headrick just three minutes later to tie it up at three apiece.

The Blues came storming out of the gates in the third, bringing fans to their feet as de Serres buried the go-ahead goal off an Ayres rebound just a minute into the period. Bieman provided the insurance marker with six minutes left in the game, showing off some nifty stick work to deke out the Windsor tender right in front of the crease and making it 5–3 Blues.

Coach Vicky Sunohara was pleased with her team’s ability to “keep composed,” and she credited the strength of the forecheck as well as the first line of Straatman, Bieman, and Roache, who “clicked well, passed the puck, and created a lot of chances.”

Fifth-year assistant captain Julia Szulewska gushed about her team’s performance under pressure. “You could just see it in our eyes that we wanted it more,” she said. “[The comeback] shows what kind of team we are. We don’t give up, and it was amazing to see.”

Second-year goalie Madeline Albert was solid, stopping 18 of 21 shots for the win.

Rebecca Bourgeois: looking back at a five-year hockey career

Blues women’s hockey captain talks memories, advice, and moving on

Rebecca Bourgeois: looking back at a five-year hockey career

Fifth-year Varsity Blues women’s hockey captain Rebecca Bourgeois recently completed her last season and played her final game in a blue and white jersey. As a Blues field hockey player, I was interested in learning her perspective on the student-athlete experience, being a role model, and moving on from her varsity team.

Bourgeois started this season knowing it would be her last. Five years felt like both a long and a short time for her. “I came in knowing I was going to do five years,” she said. “I don’t look back at being a rookie and think [that was] yesterday because that was a long time ago, but I’ll think back to instances like my first goal, or like a time in playoffs, or something that we did I’ll be like, ‘Oh wow, that was three years ago.’”

Over her five-year career, Bourgeois saw many of her close friends and teammates graduate, experiences she said helped her prepare for her final season. She remembered playing in her first grad game and the motivation she felt to play hard for her veteran teammates. “You see the emotions of them through those experiences, so it does prepare you, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less nostalgic or bittersweet when it does come.”

Though she knew her varsity career would end this winter, “it’s still a shock, and it’s still sad.”

Playing Varsity Blues hockey was about more than just athletics and academics. Especially in her upper years, she realized her position as a role model for her teammates and also for the community. She looked up to varsity players while growing up in Ottawa. “I remember going to university games… and being like, ‘Wow, these are pretty much professional athletes’ and getting signatures — and now kids come and we sign papers for them. It’s cool to have that platform to be able to do meaningful things.”

This year, Bourgeois and her teammates cooked a meal for Ronald McDonald House. Through this experience, she saw the impact her team could have on the community. “It was nice that we had a group… We had the resources of twenty-five people and our coaching staff and Varsity Blues program.”

As one of the captains of the field hockey team, I was curious about what Bourgeois thought of her position as captain on the ice and how her leadership role impacted her. She explained that as one of two graduating players, she felt she was in a leadership role anyway since she’d “been around the block a few times.”

For Bourgeois, being captain allowed her to “take on a larger role and responsibility.” She noted that at first it was a bit difficult to strike a manageable balance, “making sure you still take care of yourself while you’re trying to take care of other things, facilitate other people, and other plans.” The opportunity helped her get closer to her teammates, coaches, and support staff while learning about all the work that goes into a successful team.

Over time, Bourgeois became more comfortable wearing the ‘C.’ She added that it’s the thing her parents are most proud of and joked that her dad always tells people, “My daughter is captain of the U of T hockey team.” Even though she appreciates the honour of her title, she said she wouldn’t have done anything differently. “Letter or not, captain or not, I think I would have done the exact same things and still have been just as involved with the team.”

Since I still have two seasons left to play, I asked Bourgeois if she had any advice on making the most of my final seasons with the Blues. She told me never to wish anything away, especially the hard times, “because at the end of the day you would give anything to get back to that.” She explained that sometimes, especially during difficult moments like midterms or fitness testing, it’s easy to just try to get through it. “Appreciate even the things that are tougher to appreciate. Take it all in and soak in as much as you can from the experience and be ready to transition out of it at the end.”

Looking ahead, she’s excited to take her next step. She explained that though she doesn’t like to plan things too heavily, she will be continuing her studies in archaeology at graduate school. She’s “excited to have the time to figure out exactly what [she’s] going to do with [her] life.” Though hockey won’t be the focal point of her week anymore, she will continue to play recreationally.

Bourgeois plans to stay involved with her team even after she graduates, keeping in touch with her teammates, watching games, and visiting on alumni nights. “I know the support I felt from our alumni that I played with. They all came back for my last game and it was really special — I hope I can do that for my teammates in the future.” When asked about a hope she has for her team, she explained that though winning championships would be great, those are superficial wants. Overall, what she really wants for her team is “to be able to live the experience that they want while they’re here.”

On our team, we always say, “You want to leave the team in a better spot than you found it.” Though her team doesn’t express it the same way we do, the desire to make a positive impact was always on her mind. “If you’re there and you’re committed, then you want to make an impact. I think that was my aim and I hope I accomplished it,” she said.

Overall, Bourgeois’ varsity hockey career has been extremely important to her. She achieved her lifelong dream of playing intercollegiate hockey while also discovering all the other things she wants to do. She’s also met “some of [her] best lifelong friends” in what she calls “the most pivotal chunk of [her] life.”